Imagining your grandmother smoking a joint might make you giggle. But the reality is that many senior citizens are discovering the medical powers of cannabis.
As a society, our seniors are suffering. The health problems associated with aging—everything from joint pain and arthritis to depression and more serious illnesses like cancer—are typically treated with opiates and other pharmaceutical medications that numb, rather than fix, the problem.
According to data collected for the U.S. government (via the service IMS Health), 55 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written last year for people 65 and up. This marked a 20 percent increase over five years, and almost double the growth rate of the nationwide senior population. The number of benzodiazepine prescriptions climbed 12 percent over that period, to 28.4 million.
By age of 65, seniors can have several different chronic illnesses to manage every day including chronic pain, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and insomnia. The traditional approach is to treat these diseases with pharmaceuticals that often come with negative side effects. This is especially tragic since there already exists a safe plant medicine that can successfully mitigate—and sometimes cure—many of those health problems without inflicting the same negative side effects : cannabis.
Many seniors are skeptical at first, because they think cannabis is something for young people looking to get high rather than a legitimate medicine. For many seniors, though, once they open up to the possibility of using Cannabis as medication, they may be pleased with its therapeutic effects. Most do not smoke it with the intention of getting high, and some seniors who use medicinal cannabis prefer edibles. This allows them to enjoy the medicinal powers without getting high.
Cannabis has been used in healing for thousands of years. Countless patients in the 23 US states that allow legal access to cannabis for medical purposes have used it for decades to treat pain, nausea, inflammation and dozens of other symptoms. While the majority of medical marijuana patients are younger people, seniors are increasingly turning to cannabis for help for their pain and psychological problems.
Here are five common senior health issues that cannabis has the potential to mitigate:
Cannabis has scientifically proven anti-inflammatory properties. Whether you smoke it, vape it, or apply it to the skin in the form of an oil or salve, it relaxes the muscles. Patient reports to this effect are countless, and the science is encouraging too.
A clinical study published in the journal Pharmacology by the National Institute of Health found that cannabis’ anti inflammatory properties can even effectively treat Crohn’s disease, which is a serious inflammatory bowel disease.
Arthritis Today published an article on new research which suggests that cannabis can ease arthritis-related pain, inflammation and more. While the doctors quoted in the article cautioned that more research is necessary, many were enthusiastic about the possibility.
According to the NORML website, “Use of cannabis to treat symptoms of RA is commonly self-reported by patients with the disease. In a 2005 anonymous questionnaire survey of medicinal cannabis patients in Australia, 25 percent reported using cannabinoids to treat RA.A survey of British medical cannabis patients found that more than 20 percent of respondents reported using cannabis for symptoms of arthritis. Nevertheless, few clinical trials investigating the use of cannabis for RA appear in the scientific literature.”
It’s no secret that cannabis boosts the appetite. Everyone’s heard of the “munchies,” though it wasn’t until recently that scientists began to understand just why they occur.
According to a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the compounds in cannabis responsible for both its psychoactive and healing properties, also appear to increase sensitivity to scents and flavors. I’m no doctor, but I’d guess that in seniors, who often suffer a loss of appetite due to health conditions, a little craving for salty or fatty foods probably isn’t such a bad thing.
Memory and brain function
While the common perception, born out of the stigmatization of cannabis, is that it impedes memory, Israeli researcher and professor of medicinal chemistry, Raphael Mechoulam has found otherwise. He is best known for isolating THC, the main active compound in cannabis. For decades he has investigated the ways human biochemistry interacts with cannabis and he has found it to help with various symptoms –– including brain function.